The Alutiiq Museum, known for being a repository of historical artifacts, proved its ability to adapt with modern technology as it unveiled a replica of a caribou parka from the 1800s.
The museum hosted the unveiling before a packed gallery on Thursday to display a replica of a parka that was collected from Kodiak in 1840 and housed in a museum in Helsinki, Finland.
The parka in Finland is decorated with puffin beaks that made noise and swung when the wearer moved or danced and were also spiritually significant to the Alutiiq people.
But, nowadays, there are regulations, such as the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 that protect puffins.
“We had a little issue, of course, with puffin beaks and the federal government,” said Susan Malutin, a master skin sewer who led the team who made the parka.
The sewers could not get puffin beaks, and considered using shells or antlers.
“We went through a lot of things,” Malutin said. They even considered molding puffin beaks.
“Somehow, we got into the conversation about a 3D printer,” Malutin said.
Ultimately, that idea panned out. A local schoolteacher printed beaks using the Kodiak Island Borough School District’s 3D printer. The beaks were then hand-painted to the right shade of yellow.
“It is incredible that we have our modern technology intertwined with our ancestral knowledge,” Malutin said.
Every stitch was hand-sewn with traditional materials, including caribou hides, sea otter hides, land otter hides, bear gut, goat hair and ermine fur.
The original in Finland also included strands of human hair.
Malutin said that it could possibly be a remembrance of a loved one.
Each of the ladies who sewed the replica parka — Malutin, Marya Halvorsen, Cathy Cordry, Hanna Sholl and Teri Schneider — added a strand of their hair to the garment.
The five sewers aren’t the only ones now a permanent part of the parka. During the construction, the parka was taken to villages around Kodiak as a teaching opportunity. Middle and high school students in the villages helped sew a sleeve or a yoke, learning about traditional sewing and embroidery. All the students who worked on it, at least 70, according to museum executive director Alisha Drabek, signed their name on the inside.
It’s taken two years to get to this point from the time the grant to make the parka from the Institute for Museum and Library Services was first awarded, and there were tears on Thursday as Sholl danced in the parka as the assembled crowd sang a song in Alutiiq.
The song was written by a man who was raised outside Alaska, unable to live in his home, Malutin said. The song, “My drum,” was written when he returned, happily, to Alaska.
“That’s how we feel about this parka,” Malutin said. “We know that she is happy to be home where she belongs and hopefully she will have the opportunity to give you the joy that she has given all of us as we’ve been making her.”
The parka will join the Alutiiq Museum’s permanent exhibit on Dec. 13.
Contact Julie Herrmann at email@example.com.